Pucker Up For Clicks

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

Earlier this week, the Interwebs exploded with a viral video featuring 20 strangers who were brought together, coupled up, and asked to kiss at their first meeting. It instantly went viral and has already reached 54 million views on youtube.

The Internet being what it is, parody videos quickly followed, including this treasure from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

And the less family-friendly though not nearly as offensive as I expected “First Sh*t” from Funny Or Die.

Within 24 hours of “First Kiss” going viral, reports flew around that the video was a marketing tactic for Wren Clothing Company and the participants, while indeed strangers to one another at the time of the video, were made up of models and actors. Cue the social media backlash. Yet, as this New York Times article points out, the video was clearly marked as presented by Wren, which anyone with a Google link who wanted to could’ve found out was a clothing company.

“Melissa Coker, 35, the founder and creative director of the clothing company Wren, commissioned the video to showcase her clothing line’s fall collection for Style.com’s Video Fashion Week. Style.com had created the video series for brands that might lack the financial wherewithal to put on a runway show during Fashion Week.”

It’s hardly a surprise, given the quality of its production values, that many of the participants were models and actors, not random people pulled off the street. When a fashion photographer mines his/her contact list for friends to donate time to their grass-roots marketing campaign, models and actors are sure to be the first ones to fill the ranks. That they were strangers who were asked to kiss at their first meeting remains true. Yet people are still pissed, the overall sense being that since the video was contrived to spur an emotional reaction for marketing gain, it somehow undermines the authenticity of a response so universal, it caused the video to go viral in the first place.

As a part of pop culture’s viral video craze that is ruled by cats and often co-opted by babies, “First Kiss” is a fascinating case study of how the manner by which a viral video begins affects the manner in which it is perceived and the attitude with which it’s passed on. Flavorwire.com wonders whether we love the video because we were told to and posits an interesting if acerbic hypothetical of what might have happened had “First Kiss” been first shared by BuzzFeed or Jezebel.com rather than more genially released on Facebook and Twitter.

“This sort of stuff has no meaning beyond what people project onto it, and what they project onto it is very much contingent on how it’s presented.” 

Further on, the Flavorwire post acknowledges that, as a marketing tactic, “First Kiss” is a huge success (in addition to youtube, it garnered another 1.5 million hits on vimeo.com) and serves as a model of how companies, independent and corporate alike, can see use positive, life-affirming viral videos to create monetary return.

“It’s whichever brands manage to come up with things like ‘First Kiss’ — content that situates their commercial message in a glow of faux positivity and life-affirming beauty. Content that people like because it’s designed that way.” 

Whatever its original purpose, the “First Kiss” video is, in a word, charming. I barely noticed the “Wren presents” notation in its first frame, small and off-center in the upper-left corner as it was, and took little to no note of the clothes. I was engaged by the premise and execution from the start with its urban chic look and the variety of type in the couples it showcased. Whatever their professional background, not everyone was comfortable making out on camera with a partner he/she had just met, and in some couples more that others, that discomfort shouts from their body language. In others, there’s a tangible chemistry that grows and culminates in a long, passionate kiss. Some merely pecked several times in succession, others hug it out. No matter how it plays out though, every single frame tells an engaging story. We’re they directed to those responses in order to make a better video? I don’t know. Does it matter? Not in the least bit.

Are we any less emotionally affected by Budweiser’s Superbowl advert showcasing the manufactured friendship of a puppy and Clydesdale horse scored to Passenger’s evocative “Let Her Go” just because its beer commercial pedigree is clear at the get-go? We know the horse and the dog are trained to make those specific responses on cue. Does that dilute the veracity of the public’s response to the endearing final product?

Does the fact that this is an Air France advert diminish the shear, breathtaking beauty of its composition?

Of course not. Advertising is, in many ways, art be it on a screen, in print, or on a man-hole cover. It’s often bloody clever art since beyond evoking an emotional response, good or bad, it also has to sell you something. And while the proliferation of advertising overwhelms these days to a nauseating extent, breakout campaigns which hit the zeitgeist do so because they strike at the heart of a universal desire, in this case to love and be loved.

“Kiss me and you will see how important I am.”     

                                                                    —Sylvia Plath

Gustav Klimt The Kiss

Whatever the level of sexuality in a romance novel, a genre where options range from inspirational to erotic, it all begins with the first kiss. That first contact of soft flesh to flesh, the first show of true vulnerability, the first invitation to intimacy. There’s a reason Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” decorates the walls of millions of undergraduates.

A kiss is never just a kiss. Kisses break enchantments, seal deals, bid farewells, give comfort, offer welcome, instigate passion, and overall, demonstrate love in its many, many forms. In a rampantly jaded culture saturated with sexuality, “First Kiss” is a reminder how a first kiss can be all that is awkward and sweet and intense and promising regardless how it came about.

Crash Davies: “And I believe in long, slow, deep, wet, soft kisses that last for three days.”

Annie Savoy: “Oh my.”       —Bull Durham (1988)

tread softly

Follow Lady Smut where we’re prone to kiss and tell and tell and tell…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, lovely readers.

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  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I especially like what you say about some of the participants were uncomfortable and that was shouted out by their body language. But they did it anyway didn’t they? (This is SO wrong.)

    While in romance I’m all over the place — because romance is not real! — in real life, with real people, I’m all for knowing the other person you kiss.

    I’m not so concerned with women in their thirties and beyond–you’re experienced adults by then, you know what’s what– I’m concerned about young women.

    Especially in terms of a message for young people–who would definitely watch this video-ad. I hope they are rejecting the massive cluster f*** of advertising and peer pressure that demands young people get out there and kiss someone they don’t know, have sex with someone they don’t know, and rank themselves according to how hot/attractive other people find them. That’s a great way to end up with your self-esteem in the toilet. I felt like a dunked cat just thinking about the concept of the video. Ugh! Ack! Ick!

    …but maybe it’s just me. Sigh.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorKel

      I didn’t see it that way at all. I saw this as people agreeing to be part of something along the lines of a social experiment, and then being a bit shy when it came time to actually stand up and do it. Normal; kissing someone you don’t actually know (with no script) is a bit out of the ordinary.

      I don’t think that anyone who hasn’t already internalized a need for others to validate their self image in an unhealthy way is going to see that from this video.

  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    In a word – awkward. I literally could not watch it to the end. I don’t have the strong reaction that Madeline does, but rather found myself just cringing and unable to watch the whole thing. I agree with Kiersten – there are so many ways we use kisses to communicate – whether it be love, passion, a farewell, a reunion – none no less important than the next. I guess that’s what I found so awkward about the video. These people are just kissing for kissing’s sake without any associated emotional or meaningful attachment. So it just seemed forced and honestly, kind of weird.

    Interesting post, Kiersten. You’ve certainly got us thinking.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorLizEverly

    I watched it all and found it very uncomfortable, but I was waiting for a punchline or and ending of some kind, wherein it was stated that several of these folks decided to start dating. Ya see, I want my happy ending! Great post!

    Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorKel

    I loved this, even if it was an advert. I thought that the concept was brilliant, the reactions that people had were both horrifying and amusing, and that the participants/actors were brilliant and incredibly brave. I find it interesting how invested people got in “what happens next” whereas I was just interested in the moment of interaction. People were commenting on whether or not the participants had sex, while I was thinking “doesn’t anyone just kiss anymore?”

    Kissing is an art form. One should be wholly involved in the moment, receptive to one’s partner and entirely invested in the emotional bond that forms, even if it never goes anywhere else, even if it breaks immediately. Some of the participants in the “First Kiss” video had that, and it was beautiful to see.

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